In the goat show ring, it doesn’t matter that the teen has only peripheral vision and can see only a short distance.
For that 30 minutes, Luke McClain, 13, is confident about his skills. He has practiced for months on how to lead his goat, Brownie, in the 4-H Goat Show at the Johnson County 4-H and Agricultural Fair. He knows how to fluff up the animal’s hair to make it look big and lean and to make sure the legs are placed properly so the judge could see Luke’s months-long project at his best.
For Luke, being a part of the county’s 4-H program has been a chance for him to participate and compete with his peers.
When his family suggested he join the program, the Ukraine-born teen wasn’t sure exactly what 4-H was.
The boy was adopted by Joy and Mark McClain about four years ago. He had spent the first nine years of his life in a Ukrainian orphanage before joining the McClain family in their Greenwood home.
Luke is nearly legally blind. He has nystagmus, a condition that affects his eyesight, after being diagnosed with fetal alcohol syndrome at birth.
His inability to see fully prevents him from playing his favorite sports, soccer and football, for Clark-Pleasant Intermediate School, where he is in sixth grade.
In 4-H, he has found his niche. He can raise goats and chickens, carve wood, work in the garden and build a Lego structure as projects. His garden project earned a champion ribbon.
The 4-H program allows Luke to succeed and be able to participate in an activity with his peers, Joy McClain said.
“In organized things, he doesn’t do as well,” she said. “In 4-H, when you are raising livestock or vegetables, it puts you on a level playing field.”
A judge still assessed his ability to groom, raise and control his animal, but the judges were told about his eyesight and could adjust their requests accordingly.
Getting Luke ready for a goat show ring was a long process.
For years, the McClains owned and cared for goats and saw a future for Luke in 4-H. But he wasn’t ready to join 4-H when other third- and fourth-graders were.
At first he didn’t show interest in the livestock the McClains raised. So, they waited until he took an interest.
Soon, he was joining Joy McClain in the goat barn, feeding them hay, bottle-feeding babies, giving them baths and making sure they had enough water.
“Until he had an interest in the work, we weren’t going to let him do it,” she said.
He grew to love and connect with the goats. He can spout off Brownie’s birth date of March 15 and decided to name him Brownie from the color of his ears. He bathes him and frets about the bug bites the goat has on his skin.
Brownie follows Luke around the pen at home, where Luke and his mother spent about four hours daily in the weeks leading up to the fair.
Goats can be stubborn, but he loves caring for them, Luke said.
“(Brownie) really is a nice goat when he wants to be; but when he wants to be stubborn, he can be stubborn,” he said.
Some days Luke wanted to quit, Joy McClain said. He would get overwhelmed by the long hours in the barn and helping to take care of another living being. Joy McClain constantly reminded Luke that he was in 4-H now. He had responsibilities, and his goats needed him, she said.
So, he stuck with it.
“It helps me to say, ‘You have a job to do, and you have to do it,’” she said. “He has to do his best, and that is what we ask of him.”
They weren’t sure how he would do at his first goat show. Luke was still working out what 4-H was and when he would get to show off his goats.
The morning of the show, he counted down the minutes until he could show off Brownie, pumping his fists in triumph when the time winded down to about
15 minutes before the show started. He looked at a book detailing goat biology in case a judge asked him a question. He spent a few minutes watching older 4-H’ers show their animals.
He didn’t claim a prize in showmanship, but he can do it, and that is what is important to the McClains, Joy McClain said.
“The thing with special needs kids is there are so many challenges,” Joy McClain said. “I want to validate the challenges special needs parents go through every day.”